Students decry physical and mental torture in institutions

UNICEF will continue its work in ending violence in schools

Adrien Blanchard
CRC Forum, Chittagong
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Rahat
05 September 2019

The 10 adolescents discussing violence at school had only one thing in mind: Nusrat.

Just a few months ago, a young girl named Nusrat Jahan Rafi was burnt alive on the rooftop of her madrassa or Islamic religious school. This occurred shortly after she accused her teachers and headmaster of sexual harassment.

“It shook the whole country,” said Tisha, a 17-year-old girl from Chittagong. Such events, added Tisha, are not uncommon in rural areas, but they largely go unreported.

For all the adolescents at the table, Nusrat’s story was deeply upsetting and they would never tolerate another event of the sort, said the participants at the CRC30 Forum discussion in Chittagong recently. In their view, ending corporal punishment, especially physical violence in schools and getting justice for victims must be a top priority to further secure child rights across the country.

Children get to voice their demands

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNICEF Bangladesh, in partnership with the Bangladesh Debate Federation, harnessed young people’s energy for civic engagement and launched the CRC30 forums, a nationwide dialogue on child rights.

Young people from all over the country took part in the CRC30 forums, engaging experts, policy makers, and opinion leaders to discuss on the current state of child rights in Bangladesh and on ways to further protect child rights in the future.

From climate change and child marriage to violence in schools and youth employability, minority rights, the forums covered a wide range of issues that pose threats to child rights in Bangladesh.

The young people participating in these forums, however, did more than just talk about these problems. They also attempted to solve them. Participants worked in teams to develop policy recommendations that will effectively tackle the issues at hand and advance children’s rights. They then presented the recommendations to local leaders in attendance.

CRC Forum, Chittagong
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Rahat

Mentally torn and tormented 

Students are also being “mentally harassed and tortured,” said 16-year-old Sahariar. He mentioned another harrowing story, that of Aritri, a 16-year-old girl, who, constantly insulted and tormented by her teachers, committed suicide because of the treatment she endured in school.

“He screams at me and insults my family,” said another boy named Tosin, speaking of similar experiences with his teacher. “When I get insulted by teacher, I feel so sad that I don’t want to go to school anymore. I don’t even want to tell my parents because they would be so ashamed.

I tried but I just couldn’t,” he concluded.

At 12 Tosin was the forum’s youngest attendant, but this did not prevent him from speaking up for himself and millions of other Bangladeshi students: “If everyone here speaks about the problem, then we might have a chance to stop this. Maybe the insulting will end and we can attend school more comfortably,” he said.

But, for others the violence they experience in school follows them everywhere they go.

Being bullied online 

“Bullying is always happening online,” said Sahariar. “They blackmailed me and said they would spread my pictures on bad sites,” he continued.

According to him, social media has increased connectivity between young people, but it has also empowered bullies who can now reach their victims any place any time. And, as he wisely noted “To be a bully, you need to have power first.”

Clearly, violence in schools is a multifaceted challenge. Both mental and physical violence appears in so many forms. It’s as though aggressors and bullies keep finding new ways of hurting their victims.

Pressing for policies

Acknowledging the inherent complexity of the issue at hand, the students recommended the adoption of multiple policies aimed at solving the different facets of the problem.

They demanded that the government improve accountability mechanisms for teachers and principals, spread awareness regarding the sexual harassment of young women, increase access to mental health services, and facilitate access to the justice systems for the victims.

Throughout the forum, these participants never doubted the possibility of a future where schools will be free of violence. UNICEF has always shared this conviction, resulting in the publication of the #ENDviolence Youth Manifesto in 2019.

With these adolescents’ advice in mind, UNICEF will continue its work in ending violence in schools and it is only by listening to and working with young people that these problems can be solved.